Robert and the Bouncing Ball

Every child is unique. Periodically, the teacher would hear her colleagues comment that all students should all be treated the same. Certainly that is an ideal to achieve but the fact is children are not all the same.

That was true in Room 622. Each child may have had ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) but they all had very different needs. Some had acute hearing and noises truly bothered them. Others had an incredible sense of smell and they would react strongly to certain scents. Still others had sight issues and flickering lights could trigger seizures.

Then there was Robert. His heightened sense was touch. The boy definitely needed lots of physical activities to focus and settle down.

Over the years, the teacher had purchased all kinds of sensory items for the boy to help him calm down and focus. The two best things Robert liked were a small rocking chair and an over sized blue ball from Abilitations.

Robert always seemed to gravitate to that ball during sensory time. He would laugh while running and leaping on it. How that child had so much energy, the teacher never understood. Robert was like a non-stop locomotive always in action.

The rocking chair usually helped the boy calm during academics. Robert would rock in that chair during group activities around the SMART board. The problem was during language arts and math activities. Sometimes, the boy needed to be sitting at a table while working on papers.

Robert simply could not focus if he sat in the hard plastic school chairs. When in a regular chair, he would do poorly at completing his classroom work. Typically, Robert would whine and ask for the rocking chair.

One day, the teacher decided to try a ball chair that she had seen in the website There were lots of choices for Robert to have instead of a typical chair. Some of the balls were weighted while others had little legs. Another chair looked pretty normal other than the ball in the center.

She chose the ball with little legs.

When Robert saw the ball chair, he was thrilled. The boy was drawn to it immediately. That sensory chair helped Robert focus on a variety of activities. At times though, the teacher did have to rotate the boy into a regular chair. Robert knew that if behavior was good, the ball chair was available later in the day.

The boy also knew that good behavior meant more time on that big blue ball during choice time, too.

Research has shown that ball chairs can improve academic performance for children, whether they are in special or general education. The trick is that ball chairs require focus and balance. Like Robert, children often love ball chairs as they allow them to squirm around a bit without getting into trouble.

The teacher had helped other teachers over the years create a special environment for children who had trouble staying seated. She found that some children did well with plastic sensory circles to sit on. Others needed tape outlining their desk area. Still others did well with tickets to earn special rewards.

Ultimately, each child was unique and special just like Robert. They just need to be gently pushed to reach their full potential.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at